18 October 2015

Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre performing Juzeliunas

Last night, in the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre where I study, the academy orchestra gave a concert dedicated the Carl Nielsen's 150th Birthday. For those who don't know, Carl Nielsen is Denmark's national composer and wrote many wonderful works including fantastic symphonies and some stunning concerti. But because this blog is dedicated to the Baltic and not Northern Europe, I will spend this post talking about the other half of the concert.

Alongside the two works of Nielsen (Symphony No.2 and Romance), the academy orchestra performed a relatively early work by the Lithuanian giant, Julius Juzeliunas. In a previous post I discussed his Songs of the Plains (Lygumu Giesmes). The early work is Juzeliunas's symphonic suite 'African Sketches'. The work is a five movement beast for orchestra and incorporates ideas like melodies, folklore, as well as rhythmic and harmonic content from the continent. 

The five movements are drastically different from the last, the first Eisena (procession). And like the title suggests, it starts from a quiet pulsating from the percussion and different instruments are slowly introduced building to a wonderfully energetic climax.

The second movement Irkluotoju daina (rower's song) is a very peaceful movement, with rippling orchestration in the strings and percussion. The alto saxophone sings the quoted song and results in quite an hypnotic moment.

The next movement Mergaiciu sokis (dance of the maidens) is an extremely cheeky and bouncy movement, with ideas flying around and is quite a bombastic moment. The energy never seems to stop in the movement, and it is just thrilling. 

Azandu vaizdelis (Azandu picture) is another quite still movement. But it is still filled with a dramatic pull and inner turmoil. The pulsating of the high strings stops the movement being completely peaceful and just focuses you in further. The flowing lines and rich timbral palette is very evocative. The final climax of the movement is just powerful and moving.

The finale Svente (feast) in short is hysterical! The chaotic bouncing and nonstop energy does conjure up images of a wonderfully riotous occasion. The screaming horns and brutal banging of strings and percussion is a lot of fun and a glorious way to end a large piece.

The performance of the piece by the academy orchestra was very strong, Martynas Staskus (conductor) really brought out the strengths in the orchestra. I was particularly impressed by the brass (admittedly I wanted them to push a little more to really unleash chaos). The strings were beautiful and really mastered their colours. At times the percussion and woodwind had some weaker moments, but they did make up for it in sheer energy and drama.

For those who were unable to see the performance in Vilnius, below is two videos from Youtube which features all five movements. Until next time!

Juzeliuans African Sketches I-II

Juzeliunas African Sketches III-V

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